Written by: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson
Starring: Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow
Every family carries a level of dysfunction in the way they have carried differing levels of trauma and shared history to a detriment. It all comes as part of being a familial unit but not many contain the level of intrigue as the one carrying this particular surname in The Royal Tenenbaums. A wondrous journey with some fascinating characters all under one roof for a limited time.
From the very start, the Tenenbaum children, Chas (Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Richie (Luke Wilson) were considered prodigious for their talents but they all carried a tumultuous relationship with their father, Royal (Gene Hackman). With Royal at a place where he wants to reconnect with them, they all gather under deceived circumstances to mend their shared past.
Starting out with a wonderful introduction of the characters along with an instrumental version of “Hey Jude” playing in the background, Bill Murray’s voice introduces us to the world we’re going to enter. One with its quirks and characters with quite the personality, which ultimately makes this family drama into something wholly unique in its construction and one of Wes Anderson’s finest works in a tremendous filmography. This feature stands as the first of the many times he attempts to bring together a decently sized ensemble cast and allows each character to flourish and complete their arcs in wondrous ways.
This review could easily serve as a deep dive into each character and the complexities going on in their psyche but we’d be here all day considering the richness of the content, but it feels most appropriate to focus on the patriarch, Royal. Truly a fascinating man with his many flaws as outlined in the feature. He serves as the glue holding everything together with this family, as he would say it as opposed to his estranged wife, Etheline (Anjelica Huston). However, this delusion and lack of awareness of the true impact Royal has on other adds to the charm and the character growth happening with him from the beginning to the conclusion of the narrative. This ebbs and flows and eventual recognition of the impact he had on his children and other family members have a ripple effect on everyone else truly showing the dysfunction dormant.
Everything this feature highlights in the familial drama involved with the Tenenbaums comes with a tinge of sadness they could not avoid in life. Each of them found fame pretty quickly in life as child prodigies in the world of business, sports, and arts but no matter how much they advanced in their areas of excellence, it could never adequately prevent the low points of life. This left them apart for various reasons, which makes their reunification under the same roof for misleading purposes one that allows for some closure and true maturity. Thus this feature gets into each of these kids, their adult lives, and their relationship with their father in such a layered and intricate manner and every step feels incredibly well-paced. To think how much familial emotional trauma gets worked through here in its runtime built with a level of satisfaction in their conclusion serves as a testament to Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson’s writing.
The previous paragraphs might give the impression of this feature having such a deep and melancholic vibe if you’ve never seen it but this film remains a Wes Anderson film through and through. This signifies the feature has so many instances of brilliant comedic bits very much aligning with his comedic sensibilities, which certainly does not work for everyone but absolutely does for me. Much of this gets delivered through Royal as a character and the many shenanigans he finds himself in to make this grand elaborate plan work for him. The cutaways in the editing accentuate humorous moments, which serve as a staple of Wes Anderson’s comedic directorial style fires on all cylinders here. Whether it be the sequences of gambling on cock fighting to riding on the side of a garbage truck, a childlike zeal runs through this film along with its comedy to give it a light tone overall. Something very much needed when the film delves into some darker areas with where these characters lie mentally and emotionally.
As expected with every Wes Anderson ensemble film, each character receives a defining moment to shine and the cast members assembled here certainly make the most of it. Of the many wonderful performances, they each work to balance out everything perfectly with the tone. You have the deeply saddened Richie portrayed by Luke Wilson and someone like Owen Wilson’s Eli Cash. Each serves as the other’s antithesis in a sense but each carry their own level of richness in what they bring to the story. This plays out amongst every cast member as Gwyneth Paltrow gives probably her greatest performance as an actor. An outstanding ensemble as a whole each deserving their own deep dive for what they bring to the narrative.
The Royal Tenenbaums creates a familial unit with plenty of issues but through the writing, direction, acting, and production design, we get engrossed into a group we never want to leave. Individuals with their faults but trying to get better under the right guidance demonstrate their reliance on each other as every family should. A wonderful feature demonstrating Wes Anderson truly finding his footing in his third feature in a way that will propel him forward to create even more imaginative and rich films.